Car Choice: Smart, but is it right?

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Jane Wilson is a 24-year-old from Middlesex. She is thinking of getting a second-hand Smart car with a £2,000 budget, or any other smaller car for one person to use. She has done a little research but isn't sure that on such a budget she can afford a Smart car.

Jane Wilson is a 24-year-old from Middlesex. She is thinking of getting a second-hand Smart car with a £2,000 budget, or any other smaller car for one person to use. She has done a little research but isn't sure that on such a budget she can afford a Smart car.

Our reader is absolutely right, a Smart for just £2,000 is almost impossible unless it has been in an accident and needs repairs. Even the earliest European import left-hand drive models don't go for anything less than around £3,000, so her dream of a Smart will have to be shelved for a few years.

The idea of a car for one or two is certainly worth investigating, although there is always the obvious option of going for two wheels. £2,000 will buy a Peugeot Speedfight scooter, but not everyone is suited to or wants a bike. Training, safety equipment and lack of luggage space are the downsides, even though easy and free parking plus 90mpg are the plus points.

Over the years, though, there have been alternative commuter cars. Reliant have for some years imported the Ligier and there has also been the Axiam which are both tiny French Smarties which dodge car tax rules in their home country and deliver minimal fuel consumption figures.

These cars are hard to find, though, and don't have much of a support network. Also our reader should not be obsessed with finding a two-seat car as there are some small hatches around which are both cheap and economical.

A car for the head

What our reader needs is reliability and value and the mere fact that there may be four doors should not put her off. The breed of micro people-movers are becoming very affordable.

The Suzuki Wagon R is tiny, but still 3ft longer than a Smart. However, packed into that space is room for four adults and tons of headroom. I realise our reader only wants room for one, but the Suzuki is a very well-equipped car, which has twin airbags. The original model built from 1997 to 2000 is the most affordable and the GL models have power steering as standard, which makes it even easier to drive.

In addition, the Suzuki's high driving position gives our reader a good view of the road and traffic around her. Being a Suzuki, provided it is serviced, there will be no reliability issues at all. We would recommend the larger 1.2 engine, which is less stressed and even more economical and delivers an excellent 50mpg overall. I truly believe that longer term our reader will come to appreciate the extra room in what is still a very small car, smaller than many three-door hatches such as the Seat Arosa.

A car for the heart

Actually our reader should fall for the character of the Suzuki very easily, making it a heart choice too. Small is not necessarily beautiful, but it does often mean some cheeky charm.

Smarts apart, there is nothing cheekier or smaller (at 10ft) than a Mini. If any car feels like a two- or one-seater it is the old Mini. The latest, and still very pricey, BMW model is almost 2ft longer and 1ft wider, but is a thoroughly modern drive, equally at home on the motorway and around town.

Our reader does not want that, she wants £2,000 worth of very small car and why not an old Mini? Well there are quite a few reasons why she shouldn't. It is cramped, noisy and if not cared for will break down, start to rust and seem a lot less loveable than it looks.

Our reader will need to become more of an enthusiast, but the later models from 1996 have side impact protection and driver airbags, which is reassuring. The miles per gallon is around 43mpg which is only average for a tiny car, and about the same as a new Mini, but insurance and running costs are otherwise very cheap.

* Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or e-mail James Ruppert at carchoice@independent.co.uk giving your age, address and contact number, and details of the type of vehicle you are interested in.

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